MRFF GOES GLOBAL
With Prestigious Coverage by
Religious groups are training American soldiers
to view the world as a clash of civilisations
Friday June 27, 2008
By Matthew Harwood
A US sniper uses the Qur'an as target practice in Baghdad. A US Marine hands out coins to residents in Fallujah that ask in Arabic on one side: "Where will you spend eternity?" The other side is inscribed with a Biblical verse: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:16." An American soldier who performed two tours in Iraq is denied promotion when his superiors learn he is an atheist, after he refuses to pray during Thanksgiving dinner (pdf). An anti-Islamic poster adorns the door of the Military Police office at Fort Riley, Kansas, featuring a quote from conservative pundit Ann Coulter: "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity." And as the New York Times reported this week, some cadets at West Point and the Naval Academy feel pressured by their schools to adopt a Judeo-Christian worldview.
Some may say these are isolated incidents of religious intolerance, but evidence is mounting that a virulent evangelical Christianity is spreading through the American armed forces, breaking the constitutional barrier between church and state and worse, like our jihadist enemies, presenting the "war on terror" as a clash of civilisations between the Christian west and the global Muslim community.
The process of creating good Christian soldiers starts early, according to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), a group fighting to maintain the secularism of the armed forces. At Fort Jackson army base in Columbia, South Carolina, the director of the Christian outreach group Military Ministry, Frank Bussey, tells soldiers that "government authorities, police and the military = God's ministers". Photographs exist of Bussey's student-soldiers posing in their fatigues with rifle in one hand and Bible in the other, an eerily similar pose to jihadist martyrs with their rifles and Qur'ans. His Bible study classes are known as "God's Basic Training", where attending cadets learn "when you join the military, you've really joined the ministry."
Military Ministry was established in 1964 by Bill Bright, the founder of the controversial fundamentalist Christian organisation, Campus Crusade for Christ, because, according to the group's website, "he recognized the military as a special audience for evangelistic outreach."
But what the group means is that soldiers are prime for easy indoctrination. In 2002, according to MRFF, the Military Ministry's website carried a brutally honest description of the group's strategy:
Young recruits are under great pressure as they enter the military at their initial training gateways. The demands of drill instructors push recruits and new cadets to the edge. This is why they are most open to the "good news". We target specific locations, like Lackland AFB [Air Force Base] and Fort Jackson, where large numbers of military members transition early in their career. These sites are excellent locations to pursue our strategic goals.
An investigation by MRFF in 2006 into Military Ministry's activities at Lackland Air Force Base and Fort Sam Houston, an army base, uncovered evidence that Military Ministry staffers have successfully converted incoming soldiers with the approval of top commanders.
In another episode in 2002, Campus Crusade for Christ made a promotional video at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, featuring three cadets and two chaplains in uniform, thus violating a prohibition against endorsing a non-federal entity while in uniform. The video also talks of "spiritual programmes" on Monday nights encouraged by the academy, and Campus Crusade's campus director Scott Blom calls the cadets he indoctrinates "government paid missionaries" for Christ.
A similar promotional video for Campus Crusade's Christian Embassy, a social networking organisation for Washington DC's evangelical elites, also caused the department of defence's inspector general to rebuke seven military officers. His report (pdf) last year said that each officer's appearance in a promotional video for the group while "in uniform with rank clearly displayed, in official and often identifiable Pentagon locations" conferred the appearance that the defence department endorsed Christian Embassy.
As Jeff Sharlet wrote in Harper's Magazine in 2006, in the video Major General Jack Catton "says that he sees his position as an adviser to the Joint Chiefs of Staff as a 'wonderful opportunity' to evangelise men and women setting defence policy. 'My first priority is my faith,' he says. 'I think it's a huge impact. ... You have many men and women who are seeking God's counsel and wisdom as they advise the chairman [of the joint chiefs] and the secretary of defence.'"
But the proselytising doesn't end at the Air Force Academy or within the halls of the Pentagon, according to the New York Times. West Point and the Naval Academy are guilty too. Nine midshipmen at the Naval Academy recently asked the American Civil Liberties Union to petition the school to abolish daily prayer at lunch where attendance is mandatory. The academy denied their request. Sources ranging from seven cadets, two officers and a former chaplain at West Point told the Times that those that didn't attend religious services were sometimes called "heathens". Mandatory banquets begin with prayer.
MRFF's founder and director, Mike Weinstein, a former legal counsel in the Reagan administration, says that by giving such evangelical Christian organisations and sentiment such privileged access, the defence department is "creating a fundamentalist Christian Taliban." While this may sound like hyperbole, creating soldiers that have no tolerance or respect for other faiths or belief systems has real consequences.
Militarily, it slowly creates a soldiery divided by sectarianism, when it should be unified to fight for one and one thing only: the United States constitution.
Overseas, the impact is more immediately felt.
When news broke last month regarding the shooting of the Qur'an, 1,000 Afghans rioted; three people died. Also, the news that an American sniper was riddling their holy book with bullets didn't go over well with the Sunni tribes the US had cobbled together into a coalition, known as the Sunni Awakening, to fight al-Qaida and its fellow travellers in Iraq. The episode led Major General Jeffery Hammond to go prostrate before tribal leaders in Radwaniyah and say: "I come before you here seeking your forgiveness. In the most humble manner I look in your eyes today and I say please forgive me and my soldiers."
Incidents such as these can be exploited by al-Qaida and other jihadists to argue, rather convincingly, that the United States is not in a war against terrorism but a war against Islam. When peaceful Muslims come to buy into this narrative, al-Qaida and its fellow travellers become heroic defenders of the faith, and a new generation of Muslims become vulnerable to radicalisation.
In the statement apologising for the sniper's conduct, the military said the incident was "not representative of the professionalism of our soldiers or the respect they have for all faiths". This may be so, but until portions of the American military stop giving preferential access and treatment to evangelical fundamentalist Christian organisations like Campus Crusade for Christ's Military Ministry, jihadists will have evidence that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are nothing more than a 21st-century crusade to reconquer Muslim lands for Christ's salvation, led by a president who wears his crucifix on his sleeve.
Robert Kaplan describes American soldiers endearingly as "imperial grunts", but this fundamentalist subsection of American soldiers is more akin to "evangelical grunts" - soldiers who believe that there is no difference between American national interest and god's interest and are zealous to spread this message through the force of arms.
American national security can only suffer from such a divisive belief.
MRFF Urges DoD to Pull the
Plug on TBN Special,
Wednesday June 25, 2008
By Chris Rodda
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) has sent the following letter to Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, urging that appropriate action be taken to halt the re-airing of a 2003 Fourth of July Christian concert, and demanding an investigation into the appearance in this program of active duty military personnel, including, among other things, an interview with a prominent three-star general, and a military color guard dipping two American flags to Christian pop star Carman.
June 20, 2008
Hon. Dr. Robert M. Gates
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000
It has come to the attention of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) that a television special in which members of the U.S. armed forces violate a number of military regulations, as well as the U.S. Code, is scheduled to air on the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) on July 4 and 5, 2008.
The special, Carman's "Red, White, and Blue Spectacular," originally produced in 2003, and re-aired on TBN in 2005, is a two-hour Christian concert, featuring pre-taped interview segments and footage of uniformed, active duty military personnel, as well as the participation of uniformed military personnel in the concert itself.
MRFF considers roughly twenty minutes of this two-hour special to be in violation of military regulations, the U.S. Code, and the U.S. Constitution, and urges the Department of Defense to review this footage and take appropriate action. The footage can be viewed at http://militaryreligiousfreedom.org/media_video/carman/index.html.
The twenty minutes in question consist of the following:
1. The opening number of the concert, "People of God." During the performance of this song, a military color guard, comprised of two American flags, along with the flags of the various branches of the military carried by members of their respective branches, enters via the aisles and proceeds to the stage, one American flag and two branch flags on each side. Both American flags are then dipped towards the center of the stage, in violation of Title 4, Chapter 1, Section 8, of the U.S. Code. The position of the flags, once on the stage, would also appear to violate Section 7 of this chapter, with one of the two American flags, for the sake of symmetry, being displayed to the left of the military branch flags.
2. The interview with LTG Robert L. Van Antwerp (a MG at the time of the filming). LTG Van Antwerp appears in uniform, introduced as the president of the Officers' Christian Fellowship (OCF). The interview was filmed at Fort Leonard Wood.
3. The tour of the Norfolk Naval Base. This was filmed specifically for the special, and includes interviews by Carman of Navy personnel, all in uniform and identified by name and rank.
4. The interview with Col. Ralph Benson. Col. Benson appears in uniform, identified as the Pentagon Chaplain. The interview was filmed at the Pentagon.
5. Footage of soldiers in training at Fort Leonard Wood. This footage was filmed specifically for the special, with the knowledge and permission of LTG Van Antwerp, who was Commander of the U.S. Army Maneuver Support Center and Fort Leonard Wood at the time of the filming.
6. Footage of the U.S. Coast Guard rifle drill team. This footage, filmed on a U.S. military installation, was supplied to the producers of the Carman special by an unnamed "friend." The original purpose of this footage, or permission granted to film it, is not known. Although this segment was not filmed specifically for the Carman special, it differs from the stock footage used in other parts of the special, both in length and context. The perfect timing and coordination of the drill team's movements with the Carman song they accompany would give the appearance to any reasonable observer that this was filmed for the special, and that the drill was choreographed to accompany this music.
7. Throughout the special, including the segments listed above, www.carman.org, the website of Carman Ministries, periodically appears on the screen, giving the appearance of an endorsement of this ministry by the U.S. military. Also appearing on the screen from time to time is a TBN phone number, which along with the involvement in, and airing of, the special gives the appearance of a government endorsement of TBN.
It is the opinion of MRFF that the above described segments are in violation of the same military regulations determined by the Department of Defense Inspector General to have been violated by the U.S. military officers who appeared in the 2004 Campus Crusade for Christ Christian Embassy promotional video, i.e., JER Section 2635.702(b), "Appearance of governmental sanction"; JER Section 3-300.a. on personal participation in non-federal entities; DoD Directive (DoDD) 1334.1, "Wearing of the Uniform"; Army Regulation (AR) 670-1, "Wear and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Insignia." (See July 20, 2007 DoD Inspector General's report, "Alleged Misconduct by DoD Officials Concerning Christian Embassy.")
MRFF requests that the Department of Defense take swift action to halt the July 4 and 5, 2008 airing of the Carman "Red, White, and Blue Spectacular" on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, and that any future distribution by Carman Ministries of this special on DVD be prohibited.
Additionally, MRFF demands, as it did in December 2006 regarding the Christian Embassy video, that the DoD Inspector General immediately initiate an investigation into the blatant violations of military regulations, the U.S. Code, and the U.S. Constitution perpetrated by all military personnel who appeared in, or participated in the production of, the Carman "Red, White and Blue Spectacular."
Michael L. "Mikey" Weinstein
Military Religious Freedom Foundation
|Note: The rifle drill team clip in the video is misidentified in MRFF's letter to Secretary Gates as a clip of a U.S Coast Guard drill team. The clip is actually of a U.S. Air Force drill team, possibly filmed at an air show. This error was entirely my fault, as I, as MRFF's Senior Research Director, provided Mikey Weinstein with the descriptions of the video clips. Weinstein, a former Air Force officer, would certainly not have made this mistake. Unfortunately, the letter was already in the mail by the time the error was caught, and, although we have the utmost confidence in the capability of our Defense Department to realize that those are Air Force uniforms and figure it out, MRFF has sent a second letter correcting this.
June 23, 2008
Hon. Dr. Robert M. Gates
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000
Re: Correction to letter of June 20, 2008
This is to correct a minor error in the June 20, 2008 letter from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) concerning the illicit participation of military personnel in the Carman "Red, White, and Blue Spectacular" television special.
The rifle drill team segment described in item number six of the list of segments of this special that violate military regulations, the U.S. Code, and the U.S. Constitution was misidentified in our previous letter as footage of a U.S. Coast Guard drill team filmed on a military base. The footage in this segment is of a U.S. Air Force drill team, possibly filmed at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
This correction, of course, makes the use of this footage in a religious program even more of an issue for the Department of Defense, as the U.S. Air Force is an entity of the Department of Defense rather than an entity of the Department of Homeland Security, as is the U.S. Coast Guard.
The branch of service of the drill team members and location of the filming are the only corrections to this item. There is no change to the remainder of the description, stated as follows in our previous letter.
The footage was supplied to the producers of the Carman special by an unnamed "friend." The original purpose of this footage, or permission granted to film it, is not known. Although this segment was not filmed specifically for the Carman special, it differs from the stock footage used in other parts of the special, both in length and context. The perfect timing and coordination of the drill team's movements with the Carman song they accompany would give the appearance to any reasonable observer that this was filmed for the special, and that the drill was choreographed to accompany this music.
Michael L. "Mikey" Weinstein
Military Religious Freedom Foundation
It should be noted here, for those unfamiliar with the Officers' Christian Fellowship (OCF), that Lt. Gen. Van Antwerp's endorsement of this organization in the Carman special is also in violation of the same military regulations violated in the Campus Crusade for Christ Christian Embassy promotional video, listed in MRFF's letter. The OCF is as much a non-federal entity as the Christian Embassy, Carman Ministries, or TBN. The OCF, although having a membership consisting of military officers, is a non-profit, privately run religious organization, incorporated in the District of Columbia, and registered in the state of Colorado since 1988, when it merged with the Rocky Mountain Association for Christian Training. The goal of the OCF, with a current membership of over 14,000 officers and chapters on virtually every U.S. military installations worldwide, is to "create a spiritually transformed U.S. military, with Ambassadors for Christ in uniform, empowered by the Holy Spirit.," a goal paraphrased by Lt. Gen. Van Antwerp in his interview.
The appearance in the Carman special is not an isolated incident for Lt. Gen. Van Antwerp. Appearing at religious events seems to be a routine part of Van Antwerp's "duties," from regular appearances at prayer breakfasts and OCF ROTC retreats, to large scale events like the 2003 "Mission San Diego" Billy Graham Crusade, at which he gave his Christian testimony, in uniform, before a crowd of tens of thousands. This event was also broadcast via the Armed Forces Network to military personnel all over the world.
In addition to the military, U.S. Code, and constitutional violations detailed in MRFF's letter, the "Red, White and Blue Spectacular" contains a segment promoting creationism, several segments promoting prayer and Bible reading in public schools, and assails atheists, gays, and the rulings of so-called "activist judges." The participation of the U.S. military in this special is tantamount to a government endorsement of all these elements of what is essentially the fundamentalist Christian political agenda.
And, of course, no patriotic Christian extravaganza would be complete without a healthy dose of Christian nationalist American history revisionism. A video of Carman's song "America Again," a shortened version of which is performed in the "Red, White, and Blue Spectacular," was used for a time by the National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools (NCBCPS) to promote its curriculum. A slew of other historical misinformation, which Carman credits to pseudo-historian and NCBCPS Advisory Board member David Barton, is found in another segment in the special. Debunkings of all the historical myths and lies in these segments can be found at Talk2Action.org, where I write primarily on the subject of historical revisionism. The majority of the myths and lies used in the "Red, White, and Blue Spectacular" are covered in a series of articles I wrote last spring on the NCBCPS curriculum. Carman's "America Again" is specifically addressed in the second installment, and links to the entire eight part series can be found at the end of the last installment.
The DVD of the "Red, White, and Blue Spectacular," distributed by Carman Ministries, contains a second, producers' commentary audio track. It is from this commentary track that MRFF was able to determine which footage, not clearly identified in the special itself, was shot specifically for the special, and where that footage was shot. The track also contains some interesting comments regarding the military participants' concerns about following regulations.
Apparently, the only concern that the military had over the segment in which a military color guard marches in to the song "People of God," and proceeds to dip two American flags to Carman, was that the audience be standing as they did this.
From the commentary track: "Okay, here comes the drum corps. Remember the big thing that happened right before? They said -- before we went on -- they were, like, 'You know, we cannot enter the building unless everybody's standing.' Right. That was like their rules. I'm like, 'What? How long are they gonna be standing?' Or else they'd have to go out and start all over again."
But, the most ludicrous comment by far is this one, made when they're talking over the Van Antwerp interview segment: "And you know what? Another thing I gotta say, man. Major, major kudos to the military organization in general. They were so accommodating -- you know -- there's a lot of fine lines, PR-wise, that they have to walk and make sure that everything's done by the book..."
This was the reaction of the always eloquent Mikey Weinstein, founder and president of MRFF, after viewing the Carman video: "The mind-ripping video of U.S. armed forces personnel violating their sworn Constitutional oaths by comprehensively endorsing the fundamentalist Christian 'Carman Red, White and Blue Spectacular' maliciously defiles and lays waste to DoD regulations, bedrock Federal law and the most basic foundational principles of our United States Constitution. It is quite simply a re-vomiting of the putrescent disgrace of the noxious Christian Embassy travesty of 2006 and 2007 writ even larger. That prior Christian Embassy scandal being one for which, courtesy of the spineless cowardice of the DoD chain of command and its lickspittle Inspector General lapdog, resulted in absolutely noone therein named ever being meaningfully punished. In fact, several of the key participants have since had their military careers significantly furthered, enhanced, and embellished. MRFF will most certainly hurry to bring this entire sordid episode of massive DoD complicity with Carman's fundamentalist Christian television 'spectacular' before the Federal Court in its ongoing litigation in Kansas City, Kansas."
Col. Ralph Benson, the Pentagon chaplain who arranged for and appeared in the Christian Embassy video, also appears in the Carman special, filmed, once again, in uniform at the Pentagon. Col. Benson, although found guilty by the DoD Inspector General of violating a number of military regulations for his role in the Christian Embassy video, has received no known punishment, and remains in his position at the Pentagon, where the most recent event sponsored by his office was a prayer breakfast with creationist crusader Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis, held on June 18. No known action has been taken against any of the other officers found guilty in the DoD Inspector General's Christian Embassy report. Maj. Gen. Robert L. Caslen, Jr., a brigadier general at the time of the Christian Embassy scandal, remained in his position of Commandant of Cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point until May 2, 2008. His promotion to major general was confirmed by Senate on April 29, 2008, and he has now been appointed to the prestigious position of Commanding General of the 25th Infantry Division. Col. Lucious Morton, a lieutenant colonel when he appeared in the Christian Embassy video, was selected to attend the U.S. Army War College, and was promoted to colonel on October 1, 2007, less than three months after the DoD Inspector General recommended that "the Chief of Staff of the Army consider appropriate corrective action" against him. And last, but certainly not least, Preston M. "Pete" Geren, who, as a civilian employee of the Department of Defense was not subject to military regulations when he appeared in the Christian Embassy video, was confirmed as Secretary of the Army by the Senate on July 16, 2007.
Pentagon asked to block broadcast
on Christian network
Wednesday June 25, 2008
By JOHN MILBURN
The Associated Press
TOPEKA | A foundation that has sued the military alleging widespread violations of religious freedom is asking the Pentagon to block a Christian cable TV broadcast featuring officers in uniform.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation has raised objections to 20 minutes of the two-hour broadcast of "Carman's Red, White and Blue Spectacular," saying the program may violate a prohibition against uniformed officers endorsing a particular religion.
Mikey Weinstein, president of the foundation, said the military's involvement in the program "maliciously defiles and lays waste" to regulations. He wrote Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on Monday seeking a full investigation.
The program is scheduled to air July 4 and 5 on the Trinity Broadcasting Network. It previously produced in 2003 and re-aired in 2005.
A spokeswoman for Gates said Wednesday that the letter hadn't yet been received.
"When it is, we will forward it to the appropriate command for review," spokeswoman Eileen Lainez said.
Included in the program is a segment where Lt. Gen. Robert L. Van Antwerp appears in uniform and is introduced as the then-president of the Officers Christian Fellowship. The interview was filmed at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., where he was commander of the U.S. Army Maneuver Support Center.
In his letter, Weinstein also claims that footage also was shot of soldiers training at Fort Leonard Wood with the knowledge and permission of Van Antwerp.
Weinstein said the video is a tacit endorsement the U.S. military of Christianity and the Christian singer and evangelist Carman. He also said it's fodder for those in Iraq and Afghanistan who perceive U.S. military action as part of crusade to spread Christianity and Western ideologies. Several terrorist groups already post video of statements made by U.S. officials and clergy as part of their recruitment efforts, he added.
"This represents a quintessential national security threat for those in harm's way," Weinstein said.
Trinity Broadcasting Network was founded by Paul and Jan Crouch. It bills itself as the world's largest religious broadcaster.
A woman answering the phones at Trinity's offices in Santa Ana, Calif., said she was unaware of any objections to Carman's programs since it first aired or of any requests that it be pulled. She declined to comment further.
Israel Berry, a spokesman for Carman, said he also was unaware of any concerns. He said the ministry's legal department would be willing to review those raised by the foundation.
The foundation previously has sued Gates in Kansas City, Kan., federal court. Government attorneys are expected to file a response to the lawsuit by July 8.
To date, Gates and others have refused to comment about the litigation, only to say that religious discrimination is not tolerated in the military. Lainez said members of the military can file complaints with their chain of command, inspector general or the Defense Department's Equal Employment Opportunity Office to file formal complaints.
She said that over a three-year period, the Equal Employment Opportunity Office received fewer than 50 complaints based on religious discrimination among all military service branches.
After a complaint from the foundation last year, a report from the Defense Department's Inspector General recommended that Brig. Gen. Robert L. Caslen and Brig. Gen. Vincent K. Brooks be disciplined for wearing their uniforms in a video for the evangelical group Christian Embassy, which holds prayer meetings regularly at the Pentagon. Both men received letters of concern, which were placed in their personnel files.
Caslen, president of the Officers Christian Fellowship, is commandant of cadets at West Point. He has been nominated for a second-star and to lead the 25th Infantry Division, in Hawaii. The fellowship's mission statement seeks "Christian officers exercising biblical leadership to raise up a godly military."
On the Net:
Carman video: www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org
Department of Defense: www.defenselink.mil
Trinity Broadcasting Network: www.tbn.org
Officers Christian Fellowship: http://ocf.gospelcom.net/index.php
Religion and Its Role Are in Dispute at the Service Academies
Wednesday June 25, 2008
By Neela Banerjee
Three years after a scandal at the Air Force Academy over the evangelizing of cadets by Christian staff and faculty members, students and staff at West Point and the Naval Academy are complaining that their schools, too, have pushed religion on cadets and midshipmen.
Click to enlarge
Mike Groll/Associated Press
Seniors at the United States Military Academy celebrated after graduation on May 31. Several cadets have said religion was a constant at the academy.
Department of Defense
Maj. Gen. Robert L. Caslen is said to have spoken of faith in God at events that West Point cadets had to attend.
The controversy led the Air Force to adopt guidelines that discourage public prayers at official events or meetings. And while those rules do not apply to other branches of the service, critics say the new complaints raise questions about the military’s commitment to policies against imposing religion on its members.
Religion in the military has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, especially because the close confines of military life often put two larger societal trends — the rise of evangelicals and the rise of people of no organized faith — onto a collision course.
At the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., nine midshipmen recently asked the American Civil Liberties Union to petition the school to abolish daily prayer at weekday lunch, where attendance is mandatory. The midshipmen and the A.C.L.U. assert that the practice is unconstitutional, based in large part on a 2004 appellate court ruling against a similar prayer at the Virginia Military Institute. The civil liberties group has threatened legal action if the policy is not changed.
But the academy is not persuaded.
“The academy does not intend to change its practice of offering midshipmen an opportunity for prayer or devotional thought during noon meal announcements,” Cmdr. Ed Austin, an academy spokesman, said in an e-mail message.
But most of their complaints center on Maj. Gen. Robert L. Caslen, until recently the academy’s top military leader and, since early May, the commander of the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii. The cadets and staff said General Caslen, as commandant of cadets at West Point, routinely brought up God in speeches at events cadets were required to attend.
In his farewell speech to the cadet corps this spring, General Caslen told them: “Draw your strength in the days ahead from your faith in God. Let it be the moral compass that guides you in the decisions you make.”
The groups of cadets and midshipmen, who do not know each other, echo the same view: that the military, regardless of its official policies, by emphasizing religion, especially Christianity, at events that students are required to attend sends the message that to be considered successful officers they have to believe in God.
“Nowhere does it say that you have to be a good Christian officer or Jewish officer or Muslim officer: You need to be an officer dedicated to the Constitution of the United States,” said Steven Warner, who graduated from West Point last month. “They tell us as an officer you have to put everything aside, all your personal stuff. But religion is the one thing they encourage you to wear on your sleeve.”
Cynthia Lindenmeyer, a 1990 West Point graduate who was a civilian chaplain at the school from 2000 to 2007, offered a similar view.
“As a cadet, you are at a very vulnerable place in your spiritual development,” she said, “and you want to be like the people who mentor you.”
Col. Bryan Hilferty, a West Point spokesman, rejected the idea that the academy endorses religion, even tacitly, or that General Caslen had said anything inappropriate in his time there. And others, including many cadets, endorsed that view.
In interviews on campus, 15 randomly selected cadets said that they did not feel religion was foisted upon them.
“There is a spiritual aspect here that people feel is part of the development of an officer,” said Brad Hoelscher, who graduated last month, “but not a specific brand of religion or even religion itself.”
Col. John J. Cook III, head chaplain at West Point, said, “No one is pushing them to believe.”
Referring to prayers at mandatory settings, he said: “This is something we have done in the military for centuries. It is not designed to make people religious. The majority of people here are people of faith, and a prayer asks God’s blessing on a gathering and on the food.”
The Air Force, however, took a different view in the guidelines it adopted in 2005. For example, the guidelines say: “Supervisors, commanders and leaders at every level bear a special responsibility to ensure their words and actions cannot reasonably be construed as either official endorsement or disapproval of the decisions of individuals to hold particular religious beliefs or to hold no religious beliefs.”
Since the Air Force investigation, controversies over religion in the military have continued. Last year, the Army inspector general issued a report critical of seven officers, including four generals, who appeared, in uniform and in violation of military regulations, in a 2006 fund-raising video for the Christian Embassy, an evangelical Bible study group. General Caslen was among the officers.
The cadets and midshipmen do not claim practices at West Point and the Naval Academy are as egregious as those at the Air Force Academy, which were found to include expressions of anti-Semitism, official sponsorship of a showing of “The Passion of the Christ” and a locker room banner that said athletes played for “Team Jesus.” But given the vast authority superiors have over subordinates in the military, prayer and repeated mention of God in mandatory settings can communicate a requirement to be religious, military and legal experts said.
“You always have to be aware of the authority you have within your rank and uniform and the coercive potential of that authority,” said Robert Tuttle, a constitutional law expert and professor at George Washington University Law School whose father is a retired four-star Army general
At the Naval Academy, midshipmen have contacted the A.C.L.U. over the years, questioning the constitutionality of the noon meal prayer, especially after the 2004 court ruling, said Debbie Jeon, legal director of the group’s Maryland organization.
No midshipmen have wanted to take action until now, Ms. Jeon said. Three recent graduates, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, said that all 4,300 midshipmen enter the noon meal together and that before they eat they are invited to pray by a chaplain. The academy’s eight chaplains are all officers, and all but one are Christian. Those midshipmen who do not bow their heads with their hands clasped in front are conspicuous, they said, which makes some, especially underclassmen, feel very uncomfortable.
“By these people talking everyday, whether they make it voluntary or not, they make it very clear that this is the standard, and the standard is Judaism or Christianity,” said a recent graduate who was raised Roman Catholic but is now an atheist. “I feel it’s inappropriate to have this in a public institution.”
The midshipmen used an anonymous feedback system at the academy to voice their concerns to the administration. But its response, in a list of answers to questions about “the U.S.N.A. noon meal prayer,” contends that exposure to religious customs is important to the development of midshipmen and that those against the prayer should compromise.
The Navy’s arguments, however, were rejected by appellate court decisions in earlier lawsuits, Mr. Tuttle said.
Religious liberty advocates like Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation said fear silenced those troubled by religiosity at the academies.
“There is this massive sense of two things: that you are not wanted and you are made to feel like last-class citizens,” said Mr. Weinstein, a former Air Force officer. He added that he had been contacted by 31 cadets and staff members from West Point, including those who raised concerns about General Caslen, and 56 people from the Naval Academy, including 39 midshipmen. Almost all are afraid to go public.
At West Point, nearly all of those who raised concerns about religion at the academy in interviews were raised as Christians, though some are now agnostic or atheist.
They said the primacy of faith was apparent at West Point. This year, all cadets received a book about moral development based on the cadet prayer. At his commencement speech this year at West Point, Secretary of the Army Pete Geren started and ended with a quote from the Bible when God speaks to Isaiah, and he cast the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a clash between American and radical Islamic approaches to religious liberty.
General Caslen served as commandant of cadets from mid-2006 to last month. Cadets praised him as a military commander, but they said religiosity at West Point increased under him.
In a speech last August that all cadets had to attend, General Caslen told cadets they were all God’s children and that was why he respected them.
“It wasn’t the first time,” said Mr. Warner, who was raised Pentecostal but is now atheist. “He always brings it up when he talks about leadership or moral values.”
In an interview, General Caslen said he had a “hard time” understanding how describing the dignity of others in terms of their being God’s children would be offensive, but nonetheless he apologized.
He said he was careful not to use his position to impose his religious views on others. But he said that while one need not be religious to be a good officer, a West Point field manual on leadership talks of the spiritual formation of cadets.
“That is the leadership development model for West Point and that recognizes there is a supreme being,” he said. “The values of one’s faith play an important role in moral development, and they undergird the development of ideas like duty, honor, country.”
The West Point cadets and Navy midshipmen said they wanted the practices to end, and their hope is that the military will make changes on its own.
“I have more faith in the Army than most people do,” said Mr. Warner, 27, who served as an enlisted man before enrolling at West Point. “It can police itself if it chooses to.”
In response to the
Family, City Rise Above Swastika Graffiti
June 18th, 2008
(click to read original article)
The following comment was a response to
Jim Belshaw's June 18th, 2008 article:
June 25th, 2008
Posted by WD -- Gee,golly,gosh. Its only a Swastika.The Indians have used it for years. Treat it as any other graffiti. I think he should find something better to do with his time and stop worrying about what other people think. We already have too many people like him now. There is always someone out there trying to tell someone else how to think.
The following is a response from
Esteban A. Aguilar, Sr.,
a distinguished member
of MRFF's national legal team:
June 25th, 2008
I am responding to WD’s comments above. WD trivializes what most of our citizens recognize as a hate crime. Most people know that the Swastika is a symbol of hate and represents the darkest time in the history of the world.
The implication that one of our Native American’s went to the Weinstein home in the dark of night to put “their symbol” on his home is absurd and insulting.
It is clear that WD has no idea what Mikey Weinstein and his family are doing, why they are doing it, and what they have gone through. I have represented him, his family, and the organization they represent. I am proud of them and what they are doing.
What WD does not appreciate is that Mr. Weinstein and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation advocate allowing people to think for themselves. That is the whole point! Gee, golly, gosh! Maybe one day WD will get it.
Esteban A. Aguilar, Sr.
Attorney at Law
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Letter to the Editor
June 25th, 2008
CHURCH AND STATE
Military must not be involved in clearly religious events
This letter is in response to The Gazette's June 14 Our View, "Why atheists are religious." It's too bad the writer did not read last year's article in the Stars and Stripes newspaper that noted in the very first paragraph that the Air Force sought to distance itself from the Memorial Day event in question because it was, "sponsored by an evangelical group whose mission is to spread Christianity through the military."
It wasn't the right-wing Christian evangelical presence that the groups objected to; it's the official military imprimatur given to an event openly espousing a single belief system that they opposed. This is a clear violation of both the letter and the spirit of the Constitution.
The editorial's main point, that atheism is a religion and it ought to be treated as one in the legal sense, is worthwhile and ripe for debate. However, had the facts of the case been more carefully articulated, the motives and integrity of groups such as the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State would not be in question. Nobody's persecuting these particular Christians - "right-wing," "evangelical" or otherwise - but rather they're upholding the Constitution's prohibition of the establishment of any religion, atheism included.
The Editors, Religion Dispatches Emory University
academy prayer lawsuit
Thursday June 26, 2008
By KEVIN ROBILLARD
The American Civil Liberties Union is pressuring the Naval Academy to end its 163-year tradition of lunchtime prayer.
In a May letter to Vice Admiral Jeffrey L. Fowler, the academy's superintendent, ACLU officials asked the institution to end the prayers on behalf of nine unnamed midshipmen who said the prayer made them uncomfortable and violated the Constitution.
The prayer occurs before the midshipmen eat lunch, when one of the academy's eight chaplains leads the brigade in prayer. The anonymous midshipmen and the ACLU said those who don't clasp their hands, bow their heads, and recite the prayer inevitably stand out and feel pressure to participate.
But academy officials said they had no plans to end the practice.
"The academy does not intend to change its practice of offering midshipmen an opportunity for prayer or devotional thought during noon-meal announcements," the Naval Academy said in a prepared statement.
It also said the Navy would respond to the ACLU soon.
The ACLU said the academy's tradition is similar to a tradition at the Virginia Military Institute of offering prayers before dinner, which a federal appeals court ruled unconstitutional in 2003. It first asked the academy to end the practice after the appeals court ruling.
"The courts have been pretty hostile to any mandatory prayer," said Robert Destro, a law professor at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., who specializes in freedom of speech and religion.
He said any decision would depend heavily on the details of the prayer and the degree of coercion midshipmen felt, which of the prayer and the degree of coercion midshipmen felt, which is disputed.
A list of frequently asked questions about the prayer the academy distributed in September 2007 after midshipmen raised concerns through an anonymous feedback system expressed the academy's position in bold, italicized letters.
"The prayer is not mandatory or compulsory for midshipmen," the list said. "No midshipman is required to recite the prayer, bow his/her head, or participate in the prayer if they choose not to."
But a Navy ensign who recently graduated from the academy said the environment was one of "play along or stand out."
The ensign, who was a member of one of the two groups that approached the ACLU, asked to remain anonymous because she feared speaking out would harm her Naval career.
Her argument is echoed in the letter to Adm. Fowler, which was written by Deborah Jeon, the ACLU of Maryland's legal director.
"The situation is undeniably a coercive one for younger midshipmen who are implicitly pressured into prayer by the senior midshipmen around them, as well as the presence of a commissioned officer at the anchor," Ms. Jeon wrote.
The nine midshipmen who complained to the ACLU are a mix of upper- and under-classmen.
The ensign, an agnostic, said she and several other members of her company who didn't participate in the prayer began discussing the issue. One of them eventually brought the issue to the ACLU.
"I hope the prayer is abolished. It's certainly unconstitutional," the ensign said.
The list of questions about the prayer distributed by the academy didn't answer the midshipmen's concerns, Ms. Jeon said.
"They don't address the VMI ruling at all," she said. "Midshipmen who take an oath to support and defend the Constitution are troubled."
Mr. Destro said the less formal the prayer is, the better the chance a court would decide it was legal.
"The more innocuous, the less prayerful it sounds, the safer the ground is," he said.
He also said the Naval Academy, as part of the military, may restrict freedom of speech and religion more than a state institution like Virginia Military Institute.
"There's no doubt the First Amendment applies differently to the military," Mr. Destro said.
But Ms. Jeon said that argument had been rejected by federal courts in the 1972 Anderson vs. Laird case in which the military academies were forced to abandon the practice of mandatory chapel services on Sunday.
The controversy over the prayer isn't the first one involving religion at the academy this year. In March, the New Mexico-based Military Religious Freedom Foundation asked the school to end the practice of dipping the American and academy flags when the color guard walks in front of the altar at the Naval Academy Chapel.
The tradition had existed since 1940, but Adm. Fowler ended the practice last October, only to reverse that decision when churchgoers complained in February.
At the time, Mikey Weinstein, the head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said there was a "pervasive" Christian fundamentalist culture at the academy.
While no lawsuit has been filed over the prayer yet, Ms. Jeon said officials are considering it.
"There has been some reluctance in the past," she said. But this group "seem more determined," she said.
Mr. Destro, who said the issue will eventually go to trial if a plaintiff steps forward, wasn't surprised there had been no volunteers so far.
"If you were a mid, would you sue the Naval Academy?" he said.
Date: Saturday, June 21, 2008
I would suggest that it is far more likely in any corner of our country today that it is the atheists who engage in a tireless tirade against Christianity,
and work to punish any and all those Americans who don't keep their Christianity in the closet. It is more often the case that atheists and other
non-Christians suppress the majority population with just this tactic.
'Separation of Church and State' has been deliberately skewed to reflect the demonization of Christianity. In fact, all our forefathers were specifying was that the government could not choose our religion for us; this was as a result of ruling monarchies changing religions as marriages of political convenience took place.
In fact, Christianity is the very foundation of Democracy, and our forefathers embraced those principles. Openly and directly, in our Constitution and in our Bill of Rights, and in the display of the Ten Commandments at all court buildings.
Without Democracy, which you would not have without Christianity, you would not have the right to file these lawsuits. Ever occur to you?
Should anyone be forced to be Christian? Of course not. But neither should you have the right to denounce and suppress a religion you don't like -- and don't appreciate the freedom it has provided you.
Date: Saturday, June 21, 2008
This is Mikey Weinstein, President and Founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org)....my personal assistant, Bekki Miller, forwarded your e-mail to me.
First I would like to thank you for taking the time to reach out to us, although we will most certainly disagree with pretty much all you expressed. That said, good ma'am, I respectfully submit your recitation of U.S.history is quite incorrect and errant on many levels. As is your terribly flawed perspective of the state of the extremely well entrenched Federal caselaw concerning separation of church and state.
The one area we would seem to FULLY agree on is where you correctly expressed that none should "be forced to be a Christian". Sadly, however, that is PRECISELY what is happening at epidemic levels threatening our beautiful nation's national security in all branches of our honorable and noble United States military and at all armed forces installations around the world!!. MRFF has over 8,200 active duty marines, sailors, soldiers, airmen, coastguardsmen, Guard, Reserve and veteran clients,
Trish, who would sadly confirm this wretched fact....and, NOW PLEASE HEAR THIS, 96% of them are CHRISTIANS themselves, Trish!!!....about 3/4 of that number are Protestant and 1/4 Roman Catholic. Merely 4% of our clients are NOT Christians, Trish!!......we add many more clients every day as well......and, PUHLEEEZE, don't ever, EVER again tell me that it is YOUR version of Christianity which has "provided" my freedom and that I should be appropriately thankful for that "fact"!!!!!.....that is not only SO WRONG but INSULTING to boot!!
Again, ma'am, I respectfully submit that your sorry perspective is horrendously warped and tortured in its arresting dearth of historical and practical accuracy!!........quite on the contrary, Trish, it is the UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION which provides the bedrock for ALL of our precious freedoms and MOST CERTAINLY NOT your particular parochial perspective of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!!
The fact that you don't REMOTELY "get" this CRITICAL fact is not merely disappointing but fairly terrifying in it's comprehensive consequences for our nation's welfare.....indeed, our U.S. Constitution represents the VERY first time in human history that any nationstate put together a governing document which DID NOT INVOKE THE NAME of somebody's particular deity...including YOURS and MINE.
With respect and in gratitude for taking the time to write, your fellow American,
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